Monday, May 18, 2015

My Three Sons (1961)

As it continued its initial season in the winter and spring of 1961, what would eventually become TV's second-longest-running live-action comedy was still searching for its identity, despite being helmed by veteran director Peter Tewksbury, formerly of Father Knows Best. The series tries its hand at parody in "The Delinquent" (February 16, 1961) in which Mike is suspected of and then encourages his girlfriend Jean Pearson to believe he is part of a motorcycle gang when he is secretly building her a new hi-fi set for her birthday with his friend Time Weede. His sneaky behavior is paralleled by Bub watching a stereotypical juvenile delinquent movie on TV and Tramp's extracurricular adventures with a forward poodle from down the street. Not surprisingly, the parody comes off a bit forced, as it does in the following episode "Man in a Trenchcoat" (February 23, 1961) in which Robbie is suspected of being a delinquent for stealing hubcaps off Mr. Pearson's car when he is really sneaking around with classmate Judy Doucette under the auspices of studying together, thereby arousing the suspicions of his steady girlfriend Vivian Gibson, who sends her brother out to spy on him wearing a trenchcoat, an obvious attempt to play off B-grade suspense thrillers. Robbie's sense of intrigue and paranoia is heightened from addictively reading pulp suspense novels, which by episode's end his father convinces him are a waste of his time. It's as if the series has to try on and poke fun at other formulas because it hasn't yet established it's true core yet. It's often easier to say what you are not than what you are.

This definition by denial is brought up again in "Organization Woman" (February 2, 1961) in which the Douglas's are visited by Steve's sister Harriet when he is away on business. Harriet's husband is an efficiency expert, so when she walks into the chaotic Douglas household, she decides to try out some of her husband's principles on them, and after some initial hurdles, the family is soon operating at maximum efficiency, until Steve returns home from his trip and is completely confounded by her system. Though he tries to adapt, Harriet eventually comes to realize that while maximizing traffic flow and resource usage, she has eliminated human interaction, the primary purpose of living together. Thus, the family has to become something it isn't in order to recognize the value of what it has. Likewise, in "Other People's Houses" (February 9, 1961) Robbie initially thinks his friend Hank's home is better than his because Hank, an only child, has his own room, but Hank is actually starving for the messiness of having siblings and wants to go to a military academy just to get away from the stifling gaze of his parents. In the end Hank's father tells Bub not to change a thing about the Douglas household because doing so would be a mistake. In other words, things are perfect just as they are in the Douglas household. 

The same point is made in a different way in "Bub Leaves Home" (January 12, 1961) in which Bub feels displaced after Steve's Aunt Selina comes to visit. At first all the boys think Selina is great because she can help Mike fix the motor in his car, will toss the football with Robbie, and helps Chip work on his scooter, so much so that Bub thinks they prefer her as his replacement. He makes up an excuse about taking a job with his old vaudeville friend Flats Jensen and goes to the bus station to take the next bus out of town. But while there he runs into Selina, who says that she was only there on vacation and is returning to where she belongs because she's not one to think that the grass is greener elsewhere. Bub realizes that Steve and the boys will be lost without him or be forced to call on the incompetent Aunt Mae, so he tears up his bus ticket and heads outside where Steve and the boys are waiting to take him home.

And in an episode that recalls one of Fred MacMurray's early films, Alice Adams,  Robbie is embarrassed about his low-brow family in "The Musician" (May 11, 1961) after visiting the palatial home of Elizabeth Martin, a girl he fancies and whom Bub invites to dinner before Robbie can tell him not to. Though Bub and the boys dress up and try to act proper to make a good impression, Robbie through nervousness spills water all over Elizabeth and then staggers into the kitchen, thinking he has ruined everything and can't figure out if he is the real Robbie or the one he imagines Elizabeth expects him to be. He is jolted back to reality when he hears the strains of Dixieland jazz coming from the living room and returns to find Elizabeth leading the family in a spirited rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In." He tells her he thought she only liked classical music, but she says she likes all kinds and invites him to join in, in other words, to just be himself. Once again Robbie is taught that he needn't put on airs or feel that any other family is better than his.

But while the Douglas' family is depicted as a paragon, they are not without their flaws. In "The Wiley Method" (April 13, 1961) Steve suggests that Robbie adopt some of the flamboyant, unconventional methods of his history teacher Mr. Wiley in order to attract the attention of the new girl in school, Maribel Quinby, only to have Robbie's efforts backfire and nearly get him expelled. After Wiley gets the two kids together by sending them both to the library separately in search of the same book, Robbie returns home to tell his father that he will never give any son of his such horrible advice. And Steve has to hand Chip some tough love in "The National Pastime" (April 27, 1961) after encouraging Chip not to give up on baseball just because he fails the first time, but then as umpire has to call him out at home plate when Chip's new-found confidence turns into overconfidence and he runs through a third-base stop sign. He also has to console Robbie when he loses in the finals of the "Soap Box Derby" (March 30, 1961) after failing himself to fix a missile launch problem he was brought in as a consultant to solve.

By Season 2 this brand of sentimentality started becoming the stock-and-trade of the series, ironically after Tewksbury, the Father Knows Best director, was let go and replaced with Richard Whorf. Tewksbury was something of a control freak (according to Charles Tranberg's Fred MacMurray: A Biography, he threatened not to join the show for Season 1 if Ryan O'Neal were cast as Mike), and his perfectionism not only drove other cast and crew crazy but his insistence on reshooting scenes over and over cost the producers an extra $125,000, which they were forced to pay MacMurray when his scenes ran 25 days over the allotted number in his contract at a price of $5,000 per day. 

Season 2 episodes find Tramp saving the family from a fire in "Tramp the Hero" (October 26, 1961) after Chip feels embarrassed that Tramp can't perform any tricks like his friend Sudsy's dog can. In "A Perfect Memory" (November 2, 1961), Steve drives all over town reliving memories of a high school sweetheart who comes back wanting to see him but then, after leaving clues that have Steve trying to catch up with her, leaves town before seeing him so that she doesn't spoil the sweet memories they still have of each other. "Bub's Lodge" (November 9, 1961) finds Mike embarrassed about what his fellow fraternity pledges will think about Bub's gawdy lodge brother costume and silly membership chants until his father makes him realize that he is willing to endure equally humiliating treatment in order to be accepted into his fraternity. And in "Chip's Composition" (November 30, 1961) Chip's teacher assigns her class to write an essay on "What My Mother Means to Me." Chip doesn't think he can get a pass from his fierce teacher just because he doesn't have a mother, and Steve prefers to let Chip work things out for himself rather than telling him what to write about a mother he never really knew. So Chip ends up writing a tear-jerking ode to the ways in which Bub is the best mother any boy could hope for.

However, Chip has it right that Bub is the best thing about the Douglas household. While Don Grady as Robbie often comes off forced, and Tim Considine as Mike and Stanley Livingston as Chip are merely adequate, William Frawley shines as the crusty former vaudeville hoofer with a heart of gold, William "Bub" O'Casey. Perhaps it's because the character of Bub hews close to Frawley's real personality, as described in a August 5, 1961 TV Guide cover story, which despicts him as alternately charming or withering. In "Bub Goes to School" (December 14, 1961) he turns on the charm with all manner of witty repartee in trying to woo a senior night school student. His lines roll off his tongue as if he is improvising, and his sarcastic banter with the boys saves many episodes from sinking into maudlin pap. His is the one character in the series who is a true original. Sadly, he would appear in only the first five of the show's twelve seasons.

Musically, most Season 1 episodes credit only theme composer Frank De Vol, profiled in the 1960 post on My Three Sons. However, two episodes later in the season had other composers: Jeff Alexander scored "The Musician" (May 11, 1961), and Pete Rugolo (profiled in the 1960 post on Thriller) scored "Trial by Separation" (May 25, 1961), which includes a mambo number playing at a high school dance. Four episodes in Season 2 have scores by Ramey Idriss--"Bub's Lodge," "Chip's Composition," "Bub Goes to School," and "Robbie's Band," the last three of these in collaboration with Gene Garf, who played organ on the Green Acres theme. Idriss' greatest claim to fame was writing the "Woody Woodpecker Song," for which he received an Oscar nomination in 1949, but he also provided material for Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, and Marion Hutton and played the balalaika in the score for the film Patton.

Only the first two seasons have been released on DVD by Paramount Home Video; the last of these was in 2010, and no announcements have been made about future releases.

The Actors

For the biographies of Fred MacMurray, William Frawley, Tim Considine, Don Grady, and Stanley Livingston, see the 1960 post of My Three Sons. Several other actors had recurring supporting roles--Ricky Allen (shown on the left) as Chip's friend Sudsy Pfeiffer, Olive Dunbar as his mother Mrs. Pfeiffer, Keith Taylor as Chip's friend Frederick Ryan, Peter Brooks as Robbie's friend Hank Ferguson, and Andrew Colmar as Mike's friend Tim Weede. But other than their filmographies, nothing is published online that would provide enough information for a true biography.


Cynthia Pepper

Cynthia Anne Culpepper was born into the entertainment business. Her father Jack Pepper was a longtime vaudevillian song-and-dance man, the first husband of Ginger Rogers, who relocated to Hollywood when the last of the vaudeville houses closed down and found work as a character actor in films. Her mother, Dawn Stanton Pepper, was a dancer who had appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and some of Billy Rose's productions before teaming up with Pepper for a husband-and-wife act. Cynthia was a child model by age 3, and her father would bring her on stage and sing to her during his vaudeville days, but her own acting experience only amounted to a small part in the Broadway production It's a Gift and an uncredited part in the 1950 feature film Cheaper by the Dozen before she replaced her mother in her father's act toward the end of her high school years. Her father had her tutored in the ways of show business by a team of former vaudevillians, but her acting career didn't really take off until after she graduated from high school. In 1960 at age 19 she had a few, mostly uncredited TV appearances on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, and Thriller before being cast as girlfriend next door Jean Pearson on My Three Sons, on which she appeared 8 times during the first season. 

One of those appearances caught the attention of producers Larry Klein and Hal Goodman, who cast her as Roaring '20's teenager Margie Clayton in her own series Margie in the fall of 1961. Though she was also being courted by Desilu at the same time, Margie would prove to be the high point of her career, as afterward she managed only a handful of movie roles, most notably opposite Elvis Presley in Kissin' Cousins in 1964, and a smattering of TV guest spots on shows like Perry Mason, Wagon Train, and The Addams Family as well as a final return to My Three Sons in 1964 in which, as Jean Pearson, she learns that Mike has been engaged to another woman. She was cast in the TV pilot for Three Coins in the Fountain in 1970, but the series was never picked up. She had married for the second time in 1968 and after the failed pilot, she devoted herself to her marriage and raising her son from her first marriage. However, she somewhat recently appeared in a bit role in Sandra Bullock's Miss Congeniality 2. Pepper currently resides in Las Vegas and makes appearances at Elvis Presley and other nostalgia-based conventions.

Notable Guest Stars

Season 1, Episode 15, "Domestic Trouble": Anne Seymour (appeared in All the King's Men, The Gift of Love, The Subterraneans, and Fitzwilly and played Lucia Garrett on Empire and Beatrice Hewitt on General Hospital) plays matchmaker Mrs. Barr. Dorothy Konrad (Mrs. Trilling on The Last Resort) plays housekeeper Leona.
Season 1, Episode 16, "Bub Leaves Home": Mary Jackson (shown on the left, played Emily Baldwin on The Waltons, Sarah Wicks on Hardcastle and McCormick, and Great Grandma Greenwell on Parenthood) plays Steve's Aunt Selina Bailey. George Dunn (Jesse Williams on Cimarron City) plays a bus passenger.
Season 1, Episode 17, "Mike in a Rush": James Bonnet (went on to become a screenwriter for Tarzan, Adam-12, Kojak, Barney Miller, and Knots Landing) plays fraternity organizer Art Landis. Skip Young (see the biography section for the 1960 post on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) plays fraternity member George Collingwood.

Season 1, Episode 18, "The Bully": Mary Adams (shown on the right, see the biography section for the 1961 post on Window on Main Street) plays school principal Mrs. Wisbee.

Season 1, Episode 19, "Organization Woman": Joan Tewkesbury (later was a writer for feature films Thieves Like Us, Nashville, and A Night in Heaven, directed episodes of Doogie Howser, M.D., Felicity, and The Guardian, which she also produced) plays Steve's sister Harriet Watson.

Season 1, Episode 20, "Other People's Homes": David White (Larry Tate on Bewitched) plays Robbie's friend's father George Ferguson.

Season 1, Episode 22, "Man in a Trenchcoat": Cindy Carol (Alma Hanson on Leave It to Beaver, Binkie Massey on The New Loretta Young Show, and Susan on Never Too Young) plays Robbie's steady girlfriend Vivian Gibson. Cheryl Holdridge (Julie Foster on Leave It to Beaver) plays another girl he has been studying with, Judy Doucette. Robert P. Lieb (Harry Thompson on Hazel) plays Jean Pearson's father.

Season 1, Episode 23, "Deadline": Mark Slade (Malone on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Eddie on Gomer Pyle, USMC, Patrick Hollis on The Wackiest Ship in the Army, Billy Blue Cannon on The High Chaparral, and Taylor Reed on Salty) plays high school newspaper sports editor Stu Walters. Woody Chambliss (Captain Tom on Yancy Derringer and Lathrop on Gunsmoke) plays faculty advisor Edgar Loos. Beau Bridges (shown on the left, played Seaman Howard Spicer on Ensign O'Toole, Richard Chapin on United States, Dave Hart on Harts of the West, Judge Bob Gibbs on Maximum Bob, Dan Falco on Beggars and Choosers, Tom Gage on The Agency, Maj. Gen. Hank Landry on Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate SG-1, Carl Hickey on My Name Is Earl, Nick Brody on Brothers & Sisters, Barton Scully on Masters of Sex, and Tom Miller on The Millers) plays high school reporter Russ Burton. Charlotte Stewart (starred in Eraserhead and Tremors and played Maybelle on Bachelor Father, Eva Beadle Simms on Little House on the Prairie, Tamra Logan on The Young and the Restless, Betty Briggs on Twin Peaks, and Collette Swanson on Life Goes On) plays high school poet Agnes Finley.

Season 1, Episode 24, "The Lostling": May Heatherly (Heather McNabb on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.)  plays new neighbor Mary Hawkins. 

Season 1, Episode 25, "Off Key": Olive Dunbar (shown on the right, played Heather Ruth Jensen on My World and Welcome To It and Bertha Bottomly on Big John, Little John) plays Chip's friend's mother Mrs. Pfeiffer. 

Season 1, Episode 26, "Small Adventure": Ken Christy (Bill Franklin on Meet Corliss Archer) plays demolition expert Ed. Paul Trinka (Patterson on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) plays younger co-worker Art.

Season 1, Episode 27, "Soap Box Derby": Ralph Story (the narrator on Alias Smith and Jones) plays engineering project leader Paul Rankin. Richard McKenzie (Walter Chaiken on It Takes Two) plays junior engineer Quinn. Joe Higgins (Nils Swenson on The Rifleman, Jake Shakespeare on Arrest and Trial, and Sheriff Chuck Bevans on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters) plays a junk dealer.

Season 1, Episode 28, "Unite or Sink": Robert Gothie (Sam Hanson on The Gallant Men) plays milkman Harry. Ann Morgan Guilbert (shown on the left, see the biography section for the 1961 post on The Dick Van Dyke Show) plays neighbor Verna Foster. Malcolm Atterbury (starred in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, The Birds, and The Learning Tree and played John Bixby on Wagon Train and Grandfather Aldon on Apple's Way) plays neighbor Mr. Kincaid. Bill Idelson (Babcock on The Bill Dana Show and wrote screenplays for multiple episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, and The Odd Couple as well as many other programs) plays neighbor Pete. Pearl Shear (Zuleika Dunbar on The Waltons) plays neighbor Roseanne Jones.

Season 1, Episode 29, "The Wiley Method": Chris Warfield (Rev. Dr. Frank Thornton on Going My Way) plays history teacher Jeff Wiley. Marjorie Eaton (appeared in That Forsyte Woman, Witness for the Prosecution, Mary Poppins, and The Trouble With Angels) plays English teacher Cynthia Pitts.

Season 1, Episode 30, "The National Pastime": William Leslie (shown on the right, appeared in The Long Gray Line, Hellcats of the Navy, Up Periscope, and Mutiny in Outer Space and was the narrator on The Prosecutors: In Pursuit of Justice) plays baseball coach Mr. Thompson. 

Season 1, Episode 32, "The Musician": Sandy Descher (appeared in Them!, The Cobweb, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and A Gift for Heidi and played Judy Massey on The New Loretta Young Show and Susan on The New Phil Silvers Show) plays young pianist Elizabeth Martin. 

Season 1, Episode 33, "The Horseless Saddle": Arthur Hunnicutt (starred in The Red Badge of Courage, The Last Command, The Cardinal, and Cat Ballou) plays pony-ride proprietor George. Betsy Jones-Moreland (Judge Elinor Harrelson in 7 Perry Mason TV movies) plays stock-trader's wife Flo Afton.

Season 1, Episode 34, "Trial by Separation": Florence MacMichael (shown on the left, played Winnie Kirkwood on Mister Ed) plays Jean Pearson's mother. 

Season 1, Episode 35, "The Sunday Drive": Florence MacMichael (see "Trial by Separation" above) returns as Jean Pearson's mother Florence. Robert P. Lieb (see "Man in a Trenchcoat" above) returns as Mr. Pearson.

Season 1, Episode 36, "Fire Watch": William Boyett (Sgt. Ken Williams on Highway Patrol and Sgt. MacDonald on Adam-12) plays senior fire watchman Joe Mitchell. Tiger Fafara (Tooey Brown on Leave It to Beaver) plays lost hiker Roger. Candy Moore (Angie on The Donna Reed Show and Chris Carmichael on The Lucy Show) plays his sister Shirley.

Season 2, Episode 1, "Birds and Bees": Joan Taylor (shown on the right, starred in Apache Woman, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and 20 Million Miles to Earth and played Milly Scott on The Rifleman) plays teacher Muriel Stewart. 

Season 2, Episode 2, "Instant Hate": Joe Cranston (Anderson on The Gale Storm Show) plays new neighbor John Kaylor. Ann Marshall (Angela Brown on My Favorite Martian and later played Cynthia Wright on My Three Sons) plays his daughter Barbara. Lillian Powell (Florence Bixel on Noah's Ark) plays his Aunt Marian. Norman Grabowski (appeared in Girls Town, College Confidential, Sex Kittens Go to College, Roustabout, The Monkey's Uncle, and The Towering Inferno and played Padowski on Hank) plays office worker Herman.

Season 2, Episode 3, "The Crush": Sally Hughes (Sally Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) plays Steve's secretary Sally. 

Season 2, Episode 4, "Tramp the Hero": Keith Taylor (shown on the left, played Harry on Leave It to Beaver and Tubby on McKeever & the Colonel) plays neighborhood kid Frederick Ryan. Olive Dunbar (see "Off Key" above) returns as Mrs. Pfeiffer. 

Season 2, Episode 5, "A Perfect Memory": Ludwig Stossel (appeared in Casablanca, Kings Row, and Pride of the Yankees and played Peter Van Dyne on Ramar of the Jungle and Anton Kovac on Man With a Camera) plays Steve's old high school janitor Mr. Letov. Dennis Whitcomb (later wrote episodes of Death Valley Days, The Munsters, I Dream of Jeannie, and My Three Sons) plays Steve's high school rival Larry Peckinpaugh. Claude Johnson (Officer Brinkman on Adam-12)  plays drugstore waiter Tom. 

Season 2, Episode 6, "Bub's Lodge": Stuffy Singer (shown on the right, played Donnie Henderson on Beulah and Alexander Bumstead on Blondie) plays Mike's college friend Doug. Doodles Weaver (narrated Spike Jones' horse-racing songs, hosted A Day With Doodles, and played Jack Stiles on Lawman) plays Bub's lodge brother Max. 

Season 2, Episode 7, "A Lesson in Any Language": Beau Bridges (see "Deadline" above) returns as Mike's friend Russ Burton. Bill Erwin (Glenn Diamond on Struck by Lightning) plays Steve's work colleague Joe Walters. Eddie Robertson (Eddie Thomerson on Fernwood Tonight) plays a record store clerk.

Season 2, Episode 8, "The Ugly Duckling": Karen Green (Mary Hammond on The Eve Arden Show) plays Robbie's classmate Carrie Marsh. Robert Dunlap (Dennis on Peyton Place) plays Robbie's classmate Billy.

Season 2, Episode 9, "Chip's Composition": Natalie Masters (Wilma Clemson on Date With the Angels and Edith Barson on Dragnet) plays Chip's teacher Mrs. Bergen. Olive Dunbar (see "Off Key" above) returns as Mrs. Pfeiffer. John Gallaudet (shown on the left, played Chamberlain on Mayor of the Town, Judge Penner on Perry Mason, and later played Bob Anderson on My Three Sons) plays her husband Mr. Pfeiffer. Keith Taylor (see "Tramp the Hero" above) returns as Chip's friend Frederick Ryan.

Season 2, Episode 10, "Mike in Charge": Natalie Masters (see "Chip's Composition" above) returns as Chip's teacher Mrs. Bergen. Olive Dunbar (see "Off Key" above) returns as Mrs. Pfeiffer.

Season 2, Episode 11, "Bub Goes to School": Harriet E. MacGibbon (shown on the right, played Margaret Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies) plays elder night school student Margaret Cunningham.

Season 2, Episode 12, "Robbie's Band": Richard Bellis (Emmy-winning composer for many TV movies) plays Robbie's bandmate Carl. Robert Dunlap (see "The Ugly Duckling" above) plays Robbie's bandmate Jess.

Season 2, Episode 13, "Damon and Pythias": Buddy Hart (Chester Anderson on Leave It to Beaver) plays Chieftain's club member Hal Seely.